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Advice provision, Funding and legal aid, Research

Revisiting valuable research: Economic value of social welfare advice makes compelling investment case

‘While there is a voluminous literature on the social value of legal aid, there is a dearth of evidence on its economic value, and what exists is predominantly from the US. Despite concerns over the quality of the data and methodologies adopted, all of the studies reviewed concluded that legal aid not only pays for itself, but also makes a significant contribution to households, local economies and reducing public expenditure.’

Low Commission

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Following its 2014 report on a future strategy for social welfare advice in light of legal aid cuts, the Law Commission published a major follow-up work on the economic value of social welfare advice. (Social welfare advice encompasses advice on asylum, benefits, community care, debt, education including special educational needs, employment, housing and immigration – typically provided by Law Centres, CABx and non-profit agencies.) The research review, undertaken by Graham Cookson, an economist at the University of Surrey, presented compelling evidence from different sources that social welfare advice saves public services money. UKAJI takes the opportunity to bring this valuable, and still very relevant, cross-disciplinary research to our readers’ attention. (With thanks to those who spotted that the research isn’t ‘new’, as we stated in our original post.)

Looking at all work to date on Cost Benefits Analysis (CBA) and Social Return on Investment data, the report finds that legal aid not only pays for itself, but it also makes a significant contribution to families/households and to local area economics, and also contributes to significant public savings. Different studies done in the UK, US, Canada and Australia have all demonstrated similar findings: that for every pound or dollar invested, there’s a multiple of 10 in the savings produced by, for example, keeping people their homes with jobs and incomes intact rather than having to utilise expensive crisis and emergency services. The review shows that legal advice across different categories of law results in positive outcomes for clients and their households. The review also calls for further evaluation of advice services to establish more data on effectiveness and value for money.

Commenting on the findings, Lord Colin Low said:

“This research, carried out independently, demonstrates with hard economics the true value of social welfare advice. It can no longer be argued that funding social welfare advice is too much of a burden on the state. Early and necessary interventions from advice and legal support prevent problems and expense further down the line.

 “The research also rightly calls for more robust and evidence based research on the impact and value of social welfare advice – all too often policy-makers apply ideological assumptions rather than evidence based ones. The funding landscape needs to be based on what works, and what works for the long term.

“So our strategy addresses the long term and calls for a 10-year framework for advice and legal support, levering in available funding from across central and local government.”

The full report and a summary are available on the Low Commission website here.Following

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